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Bennett v. Municipality of Anchorage

Court of Appeals of Alaska

April 24, 2009

Steven L. BENNETT, Appellant,
v.
MUNICIPALITY OF ANCHORAGE, Appellee.

Page 1114

Michael B. Logue, Gorton, Logue, and Graper, Anchorage, for the Appellant.

Hanley Rebecca Smith, Assistant Municipal Prosecutor, and James N. Reeves, Municipal Attorney, Anchorage, for the Appellee.

Before : COATS, Chief Judge, and MANNHEIMER and BOLGER, Judges.

OPINION

COATS, Chief Judge.

Steven L. Bennett was convicted of assaulting his wife. On appeal, he argues that the district court erred by admitting testimony about a previous incident involving his wife. Bennett argues that this prior incident should not have been admitted as a " crime of domestic violence" -because, according to Bennett, he did not assault his wife in the earlier incident, but rather injured her in self-defense. Bennett also argues that the court should have ordered the Municipality to produce more evidence of this prior incident Before finding that it was a crime of domestic violence. Having reviewed the record, we conclude that the Municipality offered enough evidence that this incident was a crime of domestic violence for the court to admit the evidence under Evidence Rule 404(b)(4).

Bennett also claims that the district court erred by admitting this evidence without explaining what character trait the evidence was relevant to prove. But the record shows that the district court admitted the evidence for the reason articulated by the municipal prosecutor: because the evidence was relevant to prove Bennett's propensity to assault his wife. We therefore affirm Bennett's conviction.

Facts and proceedings

On the afternoon of April 21, 2008, Anchorage Police Officers Horase Snyder and Roger Billiet were dispatched to the home of Steven and Celeste Bennett on a report of a domestic disturbance or assault. As the officers

Page 1115

approached the Bennetts' house, Officer Billiet noticed that there was women's clothing in the trash cans. The officers contacted Steven Bennett, who told them he had been in an argument with his wife, Celeste, over her use of alcohol and sleeping pills, and that Celeste had attacked him and he had defended himself by grabbing her and throwing her out of the house. Bennett admitted that in the course of this argument he had pulled the closet door off its tracks and thrown the phone against the wall, leaving a hole in the wall. The police documented scratches on Steven Bennett's face and hand.

When the police contacted Celeste Bennett, she was crying and shaking. She told the police that her husband had tried to smother her. Celeste Bennett had bruises and scrapes on her arms.

The officers arrested Steven Bennett, and he was ultimately convicted of assault,[1] family violence [2] (because the incident occurred in front of the couple's young daughter) and malicious destruction of property, [3] for throwing his wife's clothes out into the yard, damaging the closet door, and throwing the phone against the wall, breaking the phone and leaving a hole in the wall.

Before trial, the Municipality asked the district court to admit evidence under Evidence Rule 404(b)(4) that Steven Bennett had assaulted his wife once Before , in 2005. Bennett's attorney objected to the admission of this evidence, arguing that the prior incident was not an act of domestic violence but of self-defense. The attorney said that Celeste Bennett was very intoxicated during the earlier incident, that she hit Steven, and that he hit her back.

District Court Judge Alex M. Swiderski ruled that the Bennetts could both testify about the 2005 incident. But because he did not want a mini-trial on the prior incident that would distract the jury from the charged offenses, Judge Swiderski precluded the parties from offering any other evidence on this incident-although he indicated that either party could make an application to admit ...


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